Watching Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, one cannot help making comparisons between the abolition of slavery and today’s immigration reform in the United States or anywhere else that workers are treated like slaves.
The conditions that led to the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, pushed by President Abraham Lincoln, might not be historically comparable to the situation of the US today – that is true.
However, Barak Obama’s immigration reform is somehow as challenging to the country and its future as the 13th Amendment was in the middle of 19th century. After all, the principles that inspired the Amendment are based on what we would call today ‘human rights’, in terms of equality, social justice and decent work, for the people who are forced to leave their country and to work under exploitative conditions.
With all these differences, to what extent are those four million African slaves freed by Lincoln really that different from today’s 12 million Latino workers, forced to leave their countries because the US has impoverished their economies?
In this regard it is worth considering that the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) caused the bankruptcy of many small-scale Mexican farmers, and then forced them to leave en-mass and look for any kind of work possible in the US. These workers, especially when undocumented, are exposed to all kinds of exploitation and abuse.
But the need to fight against such kinds of abuse is certainly stronger in places like the Persian Gulf, where migrant workers still have no protection against discrimination and the violation of core human rights.
In Qatar, for instance, all the workers from poorer Asian countries cannot form or join unions, simply because unions are illegal. They cannot negotiate for higher wages or better and safer conditions. In fact, many keep dying on the construction sites of the 2022 World Cup because of poor safety measures. Many others have their passports taken away so that even the sole right to move or go back home is neglected.
There is no doubt that if Lincoln were alive, he would also fight for migrant rights in Qatar today.